How To Print Polyester T-Shirts
The sublimation print process is a very popular method for producing printed or custom designed t-shirts.
Sublimating offers a very professional finish with a relatively small investment.
However, there are some limitations to what type of t-shirt or fabric can be used with the dye sublimation printing process.
Fabrics / Material type
The t-shirt must be a man made fabric such as polyester or polycotton.
Ink Experts recommend a minimum 65% polyester content.
Natural fabrics such as cotton cannot be used with a standard sublimation setup.
When looking to purchase t-shirts for dye sublimation printing we always suggest researching as much as possible to find a well regarded supplier of ‘sublimation ready’ t-shirts.
Fabrics / Material colour
Sublimation works best with white or light / pale pastel colours.
A sublimation printer works with CMYK inks.
As a result, to achieve a full colour range requires a white background.
Pastel colours can also be used, but the colour of the transfer will adjust slightly due to the colour of the fabric.
Sublimation will not work on black or dark coloured fabrics as the design will not show very well / if at all.
What will you need?
A sublimation converted inkjet printer
Heat resistant tape
Flat bed heat press (swing away or clam shell)
Sublimation ready t-shirt
You will need to create the artwork for your t-shirt design on your computer.
Ideally use a good piece of photo editing software.
Popular software choices are Adobe Photoshop, Coral Draw, Serif Afinity or Gimp Design.
Basic software such as MS Word, Publisher or similar can be used but they offer limited design freedom.
They also lack some of the functions other softwares offer as standard.
Depending on the size of your t-shirt you may benefit from using an A3 size printer.
A3 printers offer greater design coverage across an adult size t-shirt.
An A4 printer would suffice for smaller designs or for children’s t-shirts.
Preparing your t-shirt:
Your t-shirt should be dry and clean.
Inspect it before pressing as you may find loose threads or stitching from manufacturing process.
Place the t-shirt on to the rubber base of your heat press and adjust it to ensure it is as flat as possible.
It is advised to pre-press the t-shirt by closing the heat press for 5-10 seconds.
This essentially irons the t-shirt to flatten it and remove any creasing.
Preparing your printed design:
There are different thoughts and opinions on the best way to prepare the paper transfer print.
Ink Experts advise our customers to trim or cut every edge of the paper before pressing.
This because it is common for the edges of the paper to get caught by the printing head during printing.
As a result ink can remain on the papers edges which in turn will transfer onto your t-shirt.
Cutting the edges off the paper ensures a clean print.
Pressing your t-shirt:
Not all t-shirts use the same heat press temperature and time.
Ink Experts advise customers to contact the supplier of your t-shirt to confirm their recommended heat press settings.
The temperature and time varies due to the GSM or weight of the fabric and the material type (100% polyester or a blended polycotton material).
As an example;
170C for 120 seconds (Gildan Sublimation t-shirts)
These settings differ due to the material composition and the weight of the fabric.
- Turn on your heat press.
- Set the temperature and time.
- Allow it to come up to temperature.
- While the heat press is heating up you can prepare your t-shirt.
- Remove the rubber base from your heat press and lay the t-shirt on to it.
- Adjust the fabric to remove as many creases as possible.
- Once at temperature carefully place the rubber mat and t-shirt on to the heat press base.
- Pre-press the t-shirt for 5-10 seconds.
- Apply your paper transfer design and secure in place using heat resistant tape (its advised to tape each corner).
- Close your press and heat press for the desired time.
- When the timer expires open the press and carefully remove the paper transfer in one smooth motion.
- Remove the t-shirt from your heat press and allow to cool.
Trimming the edges of the paper as mentioned above will ensure the paper is clean.
Where possible the edges can be carefully torn.
Doing this leaves a softer edge of the paper which reduces indented outline of the paper when heat pressing the t-shirt.
Reduce the risk of scorching your fabric by using a Teflon sheet.
The Teflon sheet can be laid over the paper transfer and t-shirt when heat pressing.
The need to do this will vary depending on the t-shirts used.
Cheaper t-shirts can be scorched more easily than higher quality t-shirts.